John Lewandowski saved a life at 16 after performing CPR on an 80-year-old having a heart attack. Then an emergency room intern at the Cleveland Clinic, he now says, “I realized, why save one life when you can save millions?”
Lewandowski — a PhD student in mechanical engineering and CEO of Disease Diagnostic Group, a company he launched in his dorm room — now claims he can save a million lives a year. His company is developing a device to provide accurate malaria diagnosis with one drop of blood in one minute at 100 times the detection level of current tests.
“Eradication of malaria is well within the world’s capabilities. It just hasn’t been done,” he says, adding that the device could entirely wipe out the disease.
About 3.3 billion a year live in areas affected by malaria, half the world’s population. Five hundred million are infected, he says, and of those, half go undiagnosed; the other half are diagnosed wrong. The company is now trialing the device in India and Peru.
Lewandowski won top prize in this year’s MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, which included 330 entrants. He also won $7,500 in the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge.
His battery-powered machine uses refrigerator magnets and a laser pointer to spot malaria-infected blood. The magnets align the iron-based crystals left behind by malaria parasites and the laser pointer quantifies them. Called Rapid Assessment of Malaria (RAM), the device is portable and easy to use; testers don’t need medical training; each test can be done for 25 cents; and it can detect malaria infections in those who yet have no symptoms.
“We could use the same reusable approach in the third world to eradicate tuberculosis, dysentery, and HIV,” he says. “In terms of health care, we plan to move mountains.”